Monday, December 19, 2011

Goodbye School...

I don't want to write about all the goodbyes because after three weeks at home I can still feel the anxiety and emotions of leaving the village, but I do want to write about the goodbye party the school held for me :)

The week before I left I started getting comments from the kids of "did the principal tell you we will have a party?" and "we will eat with you next week" and "i drew you a picture but I lost it..." but no one seemed to want to tell me when it was happening. Eventually I found out the day and when I was supposed to show up. I was a little nervous but super excited to spend some time with 77 kids and three teachers :)

So all the kids were in front of the school lined up when I showed up, and the infant one teacher started. She brought her adorable 4-6 year olds out to sing to me. Oh my gosh I love those kids. Then three standard 1-3 kids sang me a song and gave me a packet. The packet had a letter, a drawing or both from every child in the school! Even the infants that can't write yet tried to copy "we love you miss megan" and their name down onto a piece of paper with some artistic touches. They are so cute!

So after all of that and some hugs, we all went to have lunch together. My last day with the feeding program. Thanks Irma and Luisa for cooking a beautiful Belizean meal for my last day at school. Of course they still haven't figured out how much I eat so in actuality I didn't cook for the next two meals afterward :)

The day finished with just lots of games, hugs, pictures, and playing around at school. I got more hugs from Israel than anyone. He is my 6 year old little man. He gives me hugs everyday and says "my miss megan don't leave me". I couldn't walk anywhere without him attached to my waist. It made things a little complicated but he is a cute kid. When I first got to the village he is the one I could never get to go home from school and I finally learned all he wanted was to shake my hand before going home.

I will never forget these kids :) They may have driven me crazy some days but they really blessed my time and kept me laughing most of the days :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Library is Open!!!

Getting the Library Ready

I was so excited when I heard that 2800 books were coming, and a brand new set of encyclopedias! There was a lot of work to get done to get the space ready for a new library, though. The first task was definitely to clean the place up, get rid of some things, and reorganize what needed to stay. So I spent a lot of time getting rid of workbooks from students that were from 5 or 6 years previous, repairing books, and unpacking the retired text books from the states. The teachers were really excited when I explained to them that those old US reading books have awesome stories with questions already written that they could use with their students. Probably the funniest part of getting the library ready was when I went to open the supply cupboard to attempt to find a pen, and instead found a rat. What was I supposed to do with a rat? Unfortunately I knew it had to die, because when here are rats there are snakes. I was the lucky one to find the poisonous snake the year before hiding behind the cabinet. So I considered hitting it with a book and then realized I am not that mean. Earlier I had found this Tupperware container and filled it with flashcards. So I ran in and emptied it out, and caught the little rat inside. Then I realized, I have a rat in a box, what am I going to do now? Of course this was the perfect time for the Infant division to dismiss classes, so I had 25 4-6year olds running around me with my boxed rat. We ended up taking an impromptu class field trip to the house behind the school that has a cat :)

With pests taken care of, we were able to start thinking about shelving. The teachers and I discussed how we could arrange shelves and what we needed to accomplish and then I went to visit the PTA chairman (yes we have those here). Our PTA really is just a chairman, not an actual association. So I asked him if he could help build some bookshelves and who he wanted me to get to help him. The amazing thing is he works for the sawmill a few miles away and was more than happy to help, even volunteering to find some nicer wood that wasn't rough so the books wouldn't get messed up as easily. So he told me he would do it on Saturday. Friday his boss dropped him off from work with beautiful donated wood that was smooth and even pretty trim to make them look nice! Our PTA chairman and his son spent the entire day Saturday working, and created these two beautiful shelves, to go with our one old one :). You may ask, why did it take the entire day (7am-5pm) to make two shelves? Well we don't exactly have the nicest building supplies, so they used an old, slightly dull hand saw.

They Arrived!!! How am I getting them here again?

The books arrived into Belize City at the port in late October. When I finally heard they were ready for pick-up I scheduled my adventure up to Belize City for the 31st. This trip was a source of a lot of anxiety and probably contributed to my not sleeping. 16 boxes is a lot to figure out how to move when you don't have a car and are about 6 hours away. Maybe I shouldn't have picked Halloween for this adventure? I don't know, but everything turned out just fine :)

So in order to get to the City and back in one day I had to catch the first bus out of the village. I started waiting about 4:45am for the 5am bus, cause who knows when it would actually come. Well this day it was about 5:30, and it was packed! I didn't think they would let any of us on the bus, but when they found out I was going to Belize City they had to make room because of distance, this meant standing in the doorway with about 5 other people. Way too early for a ride like that. I made it to the city around 11am and found a taxi to take me to the port. This was apparently my lucky day, because he used to work at the port and was able to help me out in the confusion of where to go and when. They definitely do not make it simple. After about 10 different stops, and the customs search, etc, I was finally ready to go and we loaded the 16 boxes into the taxi. I was pretty full of anxiety about whether or not a bus would take them all at once. I know they move big things frequently, but they also occasionally lack any desire to be helpful :). So the bus driver had the great idea to take them to where the buses park instead of trying to unload them into the station. This meant there were two James buses waiting for me speak with. So they told me no, but that I should put them on the express bus which is not allowed to stop where I live. They reassured me that it would, however. So we unloaded all the boxes and I waited for the express bus to come and the driver told me no, but thanks to his conductor he eventually told me yes. So we loaded them on and I made it home with all the boxes around 8:30pm. Thankfully I had a few helpers to carry them up to the house. Our excited was a little high so there was definitely no waiting until the next day to at least peek into a few boxes. :)

Unpacking and Other Fun Adventures

The next morning I woke up and realized I have 16 boxes of books weighing about 50lbs each, I live at the bottom of the hill, and the school is at the top of the hill. My solution? Open every box at home and procrastinate the inevitable. :) So I opened every box, kept getting more and more excited about all the cool books, and sorted through them to take out the books that were better suited for classroom use, etc. So I had one box ready for the infants who aren't allowed to check out books. They had great big books with songs and dances in them, picture books, very beginning phonics, etc. Ms. Nadine was so excited for her box :)

After that I started recruiting some helpers. Niselia came to help count boxes (she is 4 and not in school yet), Abner (2 years old) stole his mom's broom and came to sweep my house and kiss the books with dogs on the cover. Eventually I went to get the rest of the help which included two men to haul them up the hill. Mateo brought a wheelbarrow and carried 6 at a time, and Luis and I each carried one. Two trips later they were all in the library and our three librarians were anxious to open them up and see what was there!

The hardest part was probably keeping the kids out of the library for the two days it took to organize, number, label and put the books on the shelves. They were so anxious to check out books and come see all of the new ones. So opening day was definitely exciting.

The Library Opens!

Picture 77 students in a very small room, all overly excited about their new books and this is what you get:

Searching for books:

Swarming the librarians:

It really was a great day :)

Other Pictures

The library two years ago:

Abner kissing the books in my house:

Niselia counting books

Thanks again to EVERYONE who helped in any way :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Few Notes on Coming Home

I purchased a plane ticket. So I guess that means it is official :) I will be home on the 4th of December.

The plan is to leave my village sometime around 16th of November, and travel for a bit before coming home. My brother will be down here as well, so we will be hanging out in Belize, Guatemala, and flying home from Cancun.

I was kind of hoping goodbyes could all wait until the very last couple of days, but it doesn't seem to work that way. I am very excited to come home, I just wish it didn't involve leaving here, and having to say goodbye to all of the people I have shared the last two years with. Unfortunately, with a month left to go, the crying has already begun. Everywhere I go it is all anyone can talk about, and all they want to do is ask "Ms. when are you leaving us?", "Miss can I come with you", "Miss what if you marry _____ then you don't ever have to leave us..." In a way it is great, because I am hearing all kinds of things that I never thought I would hear, Mayan people aren't exactly known for their displays of emotion. Sadly, though, I don't know if I can handle a whole month of sad goodbyes. So I am hoping to soon figure out a way to make it a little more enjoyable.

Last night at the shop was the starting of the crying I guess. I am not even really sure how or why it started but it did. Mostly cause my friend Narda, that lives right next to the shop, was picking on me about leaving her again, and I had had a stressful day. So the two people at the shop I am always joking with, Tecla and her brother Macario, spent five minutes picking on me about leaving until I cried, and then probably fifteen minutes making me laugh until I stopped crying and they deemed I could go home.

So here are a few of my favorite in the just beginning saga of goodbyes:

Israel: He is one of my favorites. He is 7 years old and just like a little old man. If the computer I am using was from this century and had a place to use my USB drive I would have shown you a picture. When I first moved here (he was 5) I could not for the life of me figure out how to get this kid to go home from school if I was still there. Eventually I found out all he wanted was to shake my hand and say bye. So we had our daily hand shaking moment. Now I go to school and he yells "MY MEGAN!!!" even if he is in the classroom and I am still all the way across the field. At the independence day celebrations he ran up to me and hugged me and said "Miss I love you. Don't leave me"

Manuel: Manuel is a guy I have been working with for a long time on a project that finally got funding!!! I was talking to him two nights ago to tell him the news and he tells me. We will miss you. When you go home, you have to go to church so I can see you again in heaven.

Anaya: Anaya is my (almost) 5 year old God daughter. My first try of explaining I was leaving went like this:

Me: I am going home soon, Anaya.

Anaya: When will you be back?

Me: I am not going to come back for a very long time

Anaya: Will you be back for Christmas?


Me: Anaya I am leaving in a month

she gives me a giant hug

Me: I am not going to come back again

she gives me another giant hug

Me: will you miss me?

another giant hug

Anaya: when you leave can I have your shampoo bottle?


I haven't really figured out how to explain leaving to kids under 5 years old. Niselia still thinks my puppy is coming back and before I leave. Maybe she just went on vacation to the states? She just tells me I am lying everytime I tell her I will leave.

Anyway, thats what is going on right now. If I don't write again until I come home, then I apologize. I might, but I want to enjoy the next couple weeks. This is the end of my time here with the people I have come to know as my second family, and I want to enjoy it while I can.

I miss you all and I will see you soon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where does time go?

Where does time go anyway? Its been two years since I moved to Belize, and it is coming up on my time to go home. Sometimes it feels like I have been here forever, but a lot of the time I can't believe it it almost over. So here is a bit of what is going on in the last couple months.

I have been working on making a map of the water system. The village leaders, water board, and a few others went out with me one Sunday morning and spent 7 hours walking around with a piece of paper, a pen and a 50m measuring tape. We finished all the current pipes, and measuring to all the new houses, and across the road to the other area that doesn't have water. Thankfully we were able to borrow a gps to get some of the other necessary data we need. So we are on our way to planning the extensions for the water system.

Thanks to a lot of help from my mom and others back home, we will soon have books for our school!!! World Book Enyclopedia was great in helping us to get a brand new encyclopedia that should arrive anyday now. That will be a great improvement from the encyclopedia that we currently have that is from the 1960s (much older than the country of Belize...). There will also be an amazing amount of beginning reading books, short novels, and beginning chapter books so that the kids can have some books to check out from our library that they haven't already read a few times. When I organized and set up the library at the school so the teachers and kids could use it, the students were so excited. I never knew how excited they would be to read books. I am really anxious to see how they will feel when they have more than just one shelf to choose from :) Thanks so much to everyone who helped.

I have about 10 weeks left as a volunteer. Its a bit crazy. There is a lot to get done, and a lot of things I want to continue to enjoy. I am really excited to come home for a while, but not at all ready to say goodbye here. I will be taking a bit of a break before I make it home. My last date as a PCV is November 4th, but I figure I will be home sometime around Thanksgiving or a little after. It will give me some time to say goodbye to friends outside of my village, and travel a bit. Hope you are all doing well :)
See you soon!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mom's Words :)

My parents came down this June and spent some time traveling around Belize. I was able to meet up with them a few times, at first to celebrate my birthday, and then just to enjoy a day with them here or there. At the end of their trip, my Dad returned back to the states, leaving my Mom here to experience a week in the village. I asked her to write some thoughts about her time with me in my other home. It is long, but I love it, so I'm sharing it all :)

Highlights of my week in the village with Megan:

  • Going to a wedding party three days after the wedding in which all the family and friends help the bride and groom open their presents, then take down the decorations, and then feed you. Food is always a part of any get together in a Mayan village, so we had fresh tortillas and duck caldo.

  • Meeting the wonderful people who have taken Megan into their community and their hearts.

  • Attending the promotion ceremony at the school in which three more students will be going to high school next year.

  • Going to the school and seeing proof that kids can learn in a hot classroom without electricity and technology.

  • Seeing the “World Map Project” that Megan and the kids painted on the wall of their school.

  • Because it had rained, my first bath was a bucket bath, in which the water was so cold it literally took my breath away, but not before I let out a squeal, for which Megan reprimanded me for making so much noise late at night. It was also dark, and something landed on my foot. I don’t know which time I squealed the most when the cold water hit me or the frog jumped on my foot and decided to take a bath with me! By the way, I learned how to say frog in K’ekchi, but I can’t spell it (k'oopopo').

  • Learning to wash my clothes in the river, with my favorite three year old friend, Nicelia, to teach me. She kept taking my shirt away from me, saying,” No, like this!”, then giving the shirt back to me to wash; all the while leaning over and watching me like she was going to smack my knuckles with a ruler if I didn’t do it right. It is amazing how incompetent one can feel when a three year old is teaching you how to wash your clothes! Again, Megan and I shared a lot of laughter to the point of tears. I think we even helped raise the river a few inches.

Most memorable experience:

  • The high school graduation celebration for Manuel. Everyone in the village was invited to a celebration with music and food; all important events in a person’s life are celebrated by inviting the villagers and feeding them. Manuel began by speaking to his friends and family in K’ekchi and telling them about his school and experience; then he spoke directly to me in English, in which he described the kind of high school from which he graduated. As soon as he finished, a tub was placed in the center of the floor so you could wash your hands before eating and a 5 gallon bucket that was filled with fresh tortillas the women had finished baking. A man walked up to me and gave me a bowl of caldo, which is a soup made from spices, wild cilantro, onions, and sometimes cabbage or a vegetable in it. Today’s caldo was pork. Of course you don’t eat your soup with a spoon, you use your tortilla, and it is ok to drink from your bowl. To eat the meat and vegetables, you just use your fingers.

I was enjoying my caldo, listening to the chatter all around me, and talking with Megan. The pork was delicious it came right off the bone when you pulled it. I turned to ask Megan a question, and while doing so, I flipped the piece of pork over, so I could get some more of the meat. When I turned back around, pulled the bowl to my face, I had to stop and put the bowl in my lap. I couldn’t decide what I had just seen, but I was trying to convince myself it was just a bone or a joint. I raised the bowl about half way up and looked down and realized it wasn’t. I was trying desperately not to embarrass Megan by gagging or throwing up. I tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. I raised my bowl, and asked, “Megan, is this what I think it is?” She just began laughing, and I mean laughing hysterically. She didn’t have to tell me because I knew that I had been fortunate enough to receive the “pig snout”. Yes, the snout; the wrinkled pig nose with the full nostrils and all; it was just starring at me! Anyone who knows me, knows that I am the pickiest eater in the world, and if I don’t like it, it doesn’t stay in my mouth. Well, believe you me, this never touched my mouth again. I think the only thing that saved me from getting sick right there in front of the villagers was the fact that Megan was laughing so hard she was crying, and her laughter was contagious. I can’t believe no one asked what was so funny about “caldo”!

By the way, the Mayan people don’t want a guest to go home hungry, so they make sure you have plenty to eat. It is common that you won’t eat all the meal, so they provide banana leaves for you to place the meat and vegetables in as a Mayan version of a “to go box”. The soup is then fed to the animals. The idea of having to carry that pig snout home in a “to go box” was not appealing either!

What I miss:

  • Sitting in the doorway of Megan’s house watching the kids play and listening to them argue in K'ekchi and realizing no matter the language, the kids and the arguments are the same all over the world.

  • Singing songs with Anaya, who is 4 and was singing in a mixture of English and K’ekchi with me singing in English. I would get confused sometimes! But she did learn her ABC song; sometimes had trouble remembering “H”, though.

  • Talking and playing with Nicelia, my three year old friend, but not understanding most of what she says because she knows only a few English words, but we laughed and played together anyways. She taught me a lot.

  • A night sky filled with more stars than I ever realized there were in the universe

  • The sound of the laughing gecko’s, which I heard every night, and enjoyed watching them play.

  • The lizard that took up residence under my “bug hut” bed.

  • The fresh tortillas we made each meal. I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made from fresh tortillas, which I can’t seem to make as well at home.

  • The fresh fruit and fruit juices.

  • Sitting in the doorway talking with Megan and having random people stopping just to say hello, especially all the kids.

  • Playing with Megan’s puppy, Bayli aka Bobblehead, and watching her sit and wiggle her little butt waiting for her food. When you put your hand over her food, she will even sit back down, wiggle that little butt backwards until you take your hand off the food so she can eat.

  • Spending time Megan.

What I won’t miss:

  • The Doctor Fly’s and why anyone would name a fly that inflicted so much pain, itching, and scarring a “Doctor” Fly?

  • The big, big spiders, the hairy ones and the not hairy ones!

  • Going to sleep at night in the heat with the doors and windows shut and the only way to cool down was to sprinkle water from my water bottle on me.

Lessons learned:

  • You know how in some languages, you can start to pick out words and guess what they mean? Well, in K'ekchi, you can’t! For instance, when Megan deleted a fuzzy picture from her camera, my three year old friend, Nicelia, said, “You camera, kissed!” Kissed in K’ekchi means “farted”. I don’t have a clue how it is spelled in K’ekchi, but it is pronounced kissed.

  • It’s ok to go to someone’s house to “visit” and sit in “silence” for several minutes. Silence is common when you visit. I am not sure I got used to that!

  • The villagers would look at me weird when I played with a puppy, petted or talked to a dog. Evidently, dogs are not a pet or a part of the Mayan family unit.

  • It was weird having someone ask a question about you or talk about you in your own language to another person as if you weren’t there. But the Mayan people speak to the person they know and are comfortable with. Even if they were speaking in English, they wouldn’t ask me any questions or speak directly to me. They would say, “Megan, I like your mother’s skirt.” Or…they would ask Megan the question they wanted answered about me; such as, “Megan, how old is your mother?”

  • Children and adults like curly hair and want to touch it! I just got used to saying, its ok if you want to touch it, and Megan would translate when necessary.

  • I had the time of my life in an environment and a culture that I would never have had the chance to experience without my daughter and her adventures. Memories I will treasure and never forget; pig snout included!

  • My daughter, who I already knew is an amazing young woman, but I learned she can also adapt to anything! And, I mean anything!

Thanks Mom for being adventurous enough to spend a whole week living in my little house full of critters, without anything to keep you cool, and no light switches within several miles. I enjoyed it, and am very thankful you were able to come and experience the place I have been calling home for so long.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Month for Celebrating

I am proud to say that we have two new high school graduates! That puts us up to six people in our village that have graduated from high school! :) High school in Belize is not free, and definitely not cheap either. Students are required to buy their own books, uniforms, PE uniforms, and pay tuition. All of these fees add up to around $400 a year per student. Most students who quit or are pulled out of school leave due to financial reasons. The government does give a subsidy for the first two years of high school. Some students are able to find scholarships for tuition, but they are hard to come by and do not usually include books and uniforms. So each time one of our students, supported by their family, is able to overcome all the obstacles in their way, and graduate from high school it is a definite call for celebration :)

This year Rosaria graduated from Julian Cho Technical HS and Manuel graduated from Tumul K'in Center of Learning. I attended graduation with Rosaria in PG Town, and saw that over 100 students graduated this year from JC! The ceremony was fairly similar to one in the states and was followed by the traditional reception back in the village. I did not attend Manuel's graduation as it is a bit further away and would have involved spending a night or two in another village; but I did attend the celebration at his house afterwards. My mom was also around for that one, and will hopefully have a chance to share her interesting experience.

Any celebration in the village is always followed by a reception of sorts. Mostly this includes going to one house where the ladies have been cooking and baking all day to enjoy caldo (usually pig or chicken soup) and tortillas or poch. The preparation for these takes a lot of work on the part of the women. To feed the whole village for my goddaughter's dedication we cooked, cleaned, ground, and made poch out of 220 pounds of corn. The men were the ones to slaughter and clean the pig so that the women were able to cook it as well. It is a fun integration and social time, though. Usually there is a lot of laughter and jokes while baking and getting ready for all of the visitors. It really is a weird celebration the first time you go, though. You arrive, someone comes and hands you a bowl of caldo and points to a central bucket of tortillas, and you find a place to sit yourself down to enjoy your meal. Any meat you don't finish you wrap up in a banana leaf with a few tortillas and carry home for later. When you are done you hand your bowl to one of the ladies, say thanks, and go home. Somehow this seems like a completely normal celebration anymore. Is there really a graduation, birthday, wedding or dedication that doesn't include caldo and some sort of corn product?

Anyway, back to graduations. We also held a graduation for the primary school students on the last day of school. Three students completed standard 6 (8th grade), and passed their high school entrance exams. All three were accepted to high school and will be attending next year thanks to some assistance from the government and outside scholarships! We had a really short ceremony for them in front of the other students, and a few parents. Afterwards the kids played games, watched a movie, and enjoyed themselves before lunch. A few mothers came to school and prepared rice and beans, and stewed chicken for the all 77 kids and the teachers to enjoy as a part of the ongoing feeding program :)

In case graduations weren't enough for one month, there was also a wedding! Sesaria and Augusto got married on Sunday June 19th. I was not able to make the wedding as I was visiting with my family, but I have lots of pictures (I left my camera for them to use), and attended the celebration with the family 3 days after the wedding. Sesaria explained to my mom (who was visiting the village for a week) and I that they believe that three days after the wedding you should wash your wedding gown, open all your presents with the help of family, and take down all of the decorations. So they had a little gathering at their house; all her family that lives in the village attended. Everyone participated in opening her presents at the same time, and packed them into big basins for her to sort out in time and then helped to undecorate everything. After this was completed we all enjoyed the necessary caldo (this time duck), and wished them congratulations.

With 2 high school graduations, 3 students finishing primary school, one wedding, and a visit from family June was definitely a month for celebrating! :)

My Sister Sylvia

When I am getting to know people it is always common for them to ask questions like: “where is your mother?”; “are you married?”; “how many children do you have?”, and “how many sisters do you have?”. I have noticed that they rarely ask me, “where is your father?” or “how many brothers do you have?” and I am attributing this to being that I am a girl. I guess they assume my mother and my sisters are what would matter the most to me. Only I don't have any sisters.

So basically the conversation always goes like this:
Q: how many sisters do you have?
Me: none
Q: none?
Me: none, I just have one brother
Q: but aren't you lonely?

I guess without any sisters I should be really miserable, and maybe not have had anyone to spend time with growing up. I tried to explain that when you don't have sisters, you have friends that become like your sisters to you, but families here are so big, I guess it is hard to imagine.

So one day I was talking to a couple of the youngest students after school when these questions were asked yet again. I am sure the same girls have asked them before, but maybe I will just attribute it to them wanting to practice asking questions in English? Anyway Sylvia was the one asking me this time. So Sylvia asked the sister question, to which I answed “majun” as always. “But no, how many sisters do you have?” “None, Slyvia”. “But miss, you don't have any sisters?” “no” “Miss, aren't you sad without sisters?” I guess having two sisters and three brothers she can't imagine just one brother. I don't remember how I answered this question or what exactly happened next, but the next thing I remember was Sylvia hugging me, laughing and calling me her sister (cause a girl can't be without sisters).

When I left school that day, I didn't think much more about it. It wasn't until I was talking to the infants teacher a few days later and Sylvia walked in and greeted me “good morning my sister megan!” that I remembered this conversation. For the last two months, Sylvia has greeted me everyday saying “my sister Megan”. So I can now forget about being sad, I am no longer sisterless :)

Thanks to my sister Sylvia meeting my mom, I now have a picture of the two of us :)